2015 Buccaneers Free Agency: An Early Guide to the Market
With yet another losing season in the tank, the Buccaneers are again poised to be big players in free agency.
If the Bucs' disappointing 2014 season proved anything, it showed that "winning" free agency is no guarantee of building a successful roster, much less winning games. Nevertheless, the Bucs have holes to fill on the roster and money to spend.
Following their loss to the Saints on Sunday, the Bucs secured the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, per the Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman. While that gives the Bucs an opportunity to find a franchise quarterback in the likes of Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay isn't exactly one player away from the Super Bowl.
The Bucs' roster needs to begin once again with the offensive line. General manager Jason Licht's failure to adequately address the line this past spring directly contributed to the Bucs' woeful offense this fall.
Depth could be improved across the board. The defense needs a stronger pass-rush rotation and more defensive backs.
A free-agent playmaker or two on either side of the ball wouldn't hurt though. Though the 2015 free-agent class doesn't boast an abundance of talent, the Bucs could find viable offensive linemen and defensive backs on the market.
Here is an early breakdown of the Buccaneers' 2015 free agent outlook.
The one thing the Bucs have plenty of is cap space. Thanks to Bucs' cap management, ingenuity, as well as the failure of many of their players to perform, Lovie Smith and Jason Licht can sign anyone they want this offseason.
According to Over the Cap, the Bucs have $110 million counting towards the 2015 cap. With the 2015 salary cap estimated to be $140 million, the Bucs will have nearly $30 million to spend next season.
Obviously not having players worthy of lucrative extensions leaves the Bucs with money in the bank, but the root of Tampa Bay's cap wealth is the structure of their free-agent contracts.
When signing players to long-term contracts, the Bucs typically front-load the guaranteed money while eschewing bonuses. This essentially puts players on one- or two-year deals, as they can be cut without any consequences to the cap after the guaranteed money runs out.
The Bucs could expand their cap space with additional cuts. Free safety Dashon Goldson and tackle Anthony Collins did not live up to their contracts in Tampa Bay and could be released.
The structure of Tampa Bay's contracts may yet yield further flexibility in finding a new crop of free agents to get the roster back on track.
The Bucs roster needs look a lot like they did last year. They still need a better quarterback and a multitude of players to plug the holes on the offensive line.
Free agency doesn't hold any answers for the Bucs' quarterback problems, but there are options to help the line, particularly the right side.
The left side of the Bucs line might be set for 2015. Lovie Smith suggested at his year-end press conference that Demar Dotson's move to left tackle could be permanent per the Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings:
Bucs coach Lovie Smith says he doesn't see any reason why Demar Dotson can't be the team's left tackle moving forward.— Roy Cummings (@RCummingsTBO) December 29, 2014
Lovie previously mentioned left guard Logan Mankins as a reason to hope in 2015, suggesting a possible return next season per JoeBucsFan:
Lovie names Michael Johnson and Logan Mankins as positives when asked about hope for next year. http://t.co/Kqo5jyxHm0— JoeBucsFan (@JoeBucsFan) December 23, 2014
That leaves right guard and tackle positions that need to be addressed. While rookie tackle Kevin Pamphile still has room to grow and could win the right tackle spot, Oniel Cousins, Patrick Omameh and Garrett Gilkey failed to bring anything worthwhile to the offensive line and should be jettisoned.
The offense could also use some veteran help at defensive end. The Bucs defensive line generated only 36 sacks this season, led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy's 8.5 sacks.
High-priced free agent defensive end Michael Johnson was ineffective most of the year, notching only four sacks. Jacquies Smith exploded in the middle of the season with 6.5 sacks but tapered off as the season ended.
Bucs 2011 draft picks Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers are both free agents and may not be back with the team in 2015.
The Bucs would be better served by building Lovie Smith's defense through the draft, but the availability of some quality edge-rushers in free agency this year should prompt the Bucs to fill whatever holes they can with veteran talent.
With money to spend and needs to remedy, the Bucs will be able to consider almost any free agent on the market.
Free agency is difficult to predict this far from its start on March 10. Playoff performances and injuries will need to be considered, and incumbent teams will have over three months to get their houses in order to sign their top free agents.
There are a few players the Bucs can consider immediately, starting with San Francisco 49ers guard Mike Iupati.
Iupati is unlikely to be re-signed or franchise tagged by San Francisco, partly due to their salary cap issues, according to CBS Sports' Joel Corry. It's a big loss for the Niners, as Iupati is an absolute beast of a run-blocker, something the Bucs sorely need.
The Bucs might also consider Denver Broncos guard Orlando Franklin. Since he was drafted by Denver in 2011, Franklin has been a rock inside the Broncos line. Unlike San Francisco, Denver has ample cap room and could make keeping Franklin an offseason priority.
There are several young edge-rushers hitting the market. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham, and Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this offseason.
None of them are without some concern. Pierre-Paul's production suffered following his back surgery last season. Graham and Worilds play as a 3-4 outside linebackers and may not be able to adapt to the Bucs' 4-3 base defense, even if Graham is better built for it.
The Bucs defense suffered from poor secondary depth throughout the season and could look to add more veteran help.
High-priced options include New England safety Devin McCourty, who was among the league's best safeties this season. Like Franklin, he could be a priority for the Patriots to keep and might even be subject to a franchise tag, acccording to USA Today's Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz.
More likely if less talented options include Broncos safety Rahim Moore, Jets safety Dawan Landry and Giants safety Stevie Brown. Moore is probably the best fit having played in a zone scheme in Denver, while Landry brings eight years experience, most recently under former Jets coach Rex Ryan.